PROVIDENCE — The state-run Providence public school district is planning to close 360 High School, a small experimental high school in South Providence that initially opened with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation in New York.
The school, which serves 350 students and is located inside the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, will be absorbed by Juanita Sanchez High School at the end of the school year, according to the superintendent. No buildings are closing as a result.
About 82 percent of the students who attend 360 High School are economically disadvantaged, according to R.I. Department of Education data, and nearly half are multilingual learners.
Both high schools are low-performing, receiving just 1 star out of 5 in the most recent school accountability ratings, the lowest possible score. But Juanita Sanchez, known as JSEC, has started a “redesign” process aimed at turning around failing schools. The school is slated to become a life sciences institute focused on preparing students for careers in the biomedical and medical fields, according to the district, and could include partnerships with local hospitals, bio-tech companies and the nascent life sciences hub in Providence.
In a letter sent to families Tuesday afternoon and obtained by the Globe, Superintendent Javier Montañez said the move would represent a “significant opportunity” for 360 students.
“We intend to build on the best elements of both schools by pairing the positive school culture and restorative practices at 360 High School with new redesign opportunities at JSEC,” Montañez said.
In a separate letter to staff, he said decreasing enrollment trends have made it “increasingly difficult to provide equitable opportunities in smaller high schools.”
Teachers at 360 High School will receive displacement notices, meaning their jobs are being eliminated but they can apply to other positions within the district starting in March. A spokesperson said 34 union members would get the notices.
Students will automatically be transferred to JSEC and be part of the new life sciences cohort if they take no action, according to the letter. But parents who want to send their child to a different school can fill out a preference form.
The small, experimental 360 High School was one of two innovative schools opened with the $3 million Carnegie grant in 2015. The other, Evolutions High School, has already closed. It was located in Mount Pleasant High School.
At the time that Evolutions closed in 2020, district leaders said the school wasn’t working out, but that 360 would stay open. 360 was originally inside Hope High School before moving to Juanita Sanchez. Both schools were billed as an experiment, and were intentionally smaller than a typical urban high school.
The school was designed by students and the community, and focused on student voices being “incorporated into many facets of the school operations,” according to the district website. The school also focuses on teaching English as a second language to its population of multilingual learners.
Meetings with students are scheduled for Thursday and Friday of this week, while parent information sessions are scheduled for Wednesday, at 5 p.m. at the high school, as well as on Feb. 27 and March 14. A meeting for staff was held Tuesday afternoon where teachers expressed dismay at the news.
“Today during our abruptly-scheduled meeting which notified staff of our school’s fate, numerous people shared that 360 was the best place they’ve worked,” Dale Fraza, a 360 High School teacher, told the Globe Tuesday night. “360 is a model school for community building and student engagement.”
Fraza, who has worked at the school for eight years, called it “a great place to work in a city marred by schools that are unpleasant, chaotic places to work.”
“When I first saw the Johns Hopkins report a few years ago, I was appalled and surprised at the state of some of the city’s schools,” Fraza said. “360 was not like that, and it felt like a great community to be a part of. Our leadership has been nothing but eternally positive and supportive of doing the best thing for students, despite constantly changing directives from the Department of Education and PPSD.”
The 360 students “will have greater access to electives, [career and technical education] pathways, sports, student activities, and a whole new set of theme-specific opportunities that the faculty and staff are currently designing,” Montañez wrote in the letter. “I am confident that this decision will help place more of our students in more state-of-the-art learning environments as we build out the life sciences facilities, and thriving schools with world-class programming in the long-term.”